Skylark Meadows

Location: Bawdrip, Somerset

Grid Reference: ST 348 390

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An oasis of natural tranquillity in a landscape of commercial farmland.

After a concerted campaign, local people asked Plantlife to help them buy Skylark Meadows in 1999. Donald Rayner from Bawdrip was one of those who fought to save the rich hay meadows from being sold off and possibly ruined. He remembers the day he first realised how exceptional the meadows were:

“My friends had started without me, so I set off after them across what we now call Skylark Meadows. They were ahead, and I was alone in the fields. I heard skylarks where they simply shouldn’t be. I knew I’d come across something special.”

Donald Rayner

Rhynes and pollards

This delightful reserve is tucked away, a short distance from Bawdrip, surrounded by arable fields and agriculturally “improved” grassland. Arriving in the reserve after a ¾ mile walk from the village, visitors first see seven acres of improved grassland, formerly a silage field, which was added to the reserve in 2003. We have begun work to restore meadowland here, although it will take many years.

Beyond that, the original purchase was two attractive fields. They lie barely 8m above sea level, surrounded by rhynes (drainage channels), hedges and ditches. Old hedgerows of hawthorn and blackthorn surround one of the meadows, with some lovely crack willow trees that have been pollarded (cut low on the trunk to harvest regenerating branches and encourage regrowth). We have continued to use traditional pollarding techniques here, providing a safe haven for birds like whitethroats and linnets.

Meadow magic

It is the plants that make the reserve so special. In midsummer, the meadows are alive with wild flowers, including yellow-rattle, common knapweed, oxeye daisy and pepper-saxifrage. Corky-fruited water-dropwort is a hay meadow speciality that grows here, with parsley-like leaves and a frothy heads of white flowers. On sunny days the flowers attract clouds of butterflies. As with our other meadow reserves, we employ local farmers to cut hay here in mid to late July, followed by aftermath grazing in the late summer and early autumn. The reserve is closed to grazing the rest of the year.

Purchase of the reserve was made possible by Unilever (Timotei), Somerset Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, Sedgemoor District Council, Gerber Foods, Wyvern Environmental Trust and the Charles Hayward Trust.